With two new documents, the European Union (EU) has officially recognized the relevance of climate change to peace mediation. This is a welcome and timely development, but the language used still does not put enough emphasis on the human dimension of climate-related security risks.
The new Council Conclusions on EU Peace Mediation, published on 7 December, calls for EU peace mediation efforts to ‘take into account the effect of climate change on peace and security’, and for climate-related risks to be ‘consistently considered in conflict-prevention, peacekeeping and peacebuilding strategies.’
In line with the evidence
The new Council Conclusions on EU Peace Mediation, published on 7 December, calls for EU peace mediation efforts to ‘take into account the effect of climate change on peace and security’, and for climate-related risks to be ‘consistently considered in conflict-prevention, peacekeeping and peacebuilding strategies.’ The External Action Service (EEAS) working document Concept on EU Peace Mediation, published a few days earlier, calls on the EU to ‘systematically consider climate and environmental factors and risks in mediation engagements and related conflict analysis’. It also recognises that environmental and natural resource issues ‘may create entry-points for mediation and dialogue’.
Recent research on the relationship between climate-related security risks and peacebuilding has shown that climate change impacts do pose risks to peace. Studies indicate that climate-related security risks are impacting the success of peace processes. Significantly, eight of the ten countries where the largest numbers of multilateral peace operations personnel are deployed are in areas highly exposed to climate change.
A case in point is the city of Baidoa in south-western Somalia. There, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) facilitated a local power-sharing agreement. This agreement allocated political representation along ethnic/clan lines. However, the influx of migrants from other parts of the country–largely linked to the consequence of land degradation linked to climate change–altered the composition of the urban population. As a result, the power-sharing arrangements were no longer as representative, calling into question their legitimacy. This set back UN efforts to support the building of governance institutions and broader state-building efforts in Somalia.
The impacts of climate-related security risks are also increasingly recognized by local actors. For instance, a group of regional experts and civil society representatives in the Horn of Africa recently called for making peace processes and agreements more climate-sensitive, to better respond to climate-related security risks in the region.
The choice of language matters
The Council conclusions refer to climate change as a ‘a threat multiplier that exacerbates conflict, endangering peacebuilding’. The EEAS working document strikes a similar tone, stating that ‘Environmental degradation and effects such as extreme weather can function as threat multipliers and [even] catalysts for tensions and structural risks in vulnerable contexts’.
This language is adversarial, and keeps the focus on the security of states (i.e. on an external ‘threat’ that needs to be neutralized)—a framing of climate-related security risks that is increasingly avoided by, for example, the African Union and the United Nations.
The choice of language matters. Threat multiplier is taken from the military lexicon. It is a convenient term—an easily understood shorthand for the highly complex relationships between climate change, peace and security. But it implies a limited range of policy choices, by overlooking the important role of human agency in climate-related security risks. It is people’s action, reaction and inaction, including at different levels of government, that determine whether or not physical climate change impacts lead to increased insecurity— and, therefore, impact peace processes. This framing also neglects how these impacts affect broader human security and interact with existing vulnerabilities.
The next step
The language of the peace mediation guidance reflects a weakness in the EU’s broader approach to climate-related security risks. A new approach is needed that puts people, not states, centre stage.
This approach should recognize that addressing climate-related security risks is about protecting vulnerable populations and making sure hardships and grievances exacerbated by the changing climate do not turn into security issues in the first place. In other words it shifts the focus to root causes of insecurity rather than just symptoms.
This implies addressing conflict risks and climate change vulnerability in tandem, and a development focus that addresses and transforms the underlying structures and drivers of insecurity towards sustaining peace.
Acknowledging the relevance of climate change to peace mediation is one hugely positive step. The next one should be to shift the focus from ‘threats’ and states to human security, human agency, and the intimate connection between climate-related security risks and sustaining peace.